Wild Nothing’s third album is a glorious thing. It’s an album that transcends any genre tags like dream pop or indie pop that dogged Jack Tatum’s work in the past — it’s simply a first-class pop album in the vein of Roxy Music’s sophisticated artpop classic, Avalon. Life of Pause is Tatum’s most varied release thus far. “Reichpop” opens regally with a wall of vibraphones, slick new wave beat and Tatum’s cool breath of a vocal. “A Woman’s Wisdom’s” ethereal soul moves into sugary, MBV-inspired shoegazer “Japanese Alice” and through the lush, synth-heavy title track, the languidly sexy “Alien” and “To Know You’s” motorik beat and cinematic guitar shimmer. Neil Young-inspired folk songcraft inform “Adore,” and things return to slinky grooves for “TV Queen” and “Wherever I,” touches of sax and strings adding an air of cheek and class. In the past, you could have pinned Tatum down as someone who admirably filtered influences like C86-style college rock and dream-pop but ultimately wore them on his sleeve. Life of Pause sheds any such limitations and is easily one of the best indie rock releases of the early new year.
Now that the year's over, it’s time to look ahead into 2016. There are already several exciting releases announced for the new year, so here’s your preview of what’s coming out in the next couple of months.
David Bowie’s upcoming 25th album will be released on the venerable artist’s 69th birthday. It’s a seven-song release featuring a few extended tracks, like the nearly 10-minute electro-orchestral opus that is the title track, which also is being used as the opening song for the TV series “The Last Panthers.” So far, we’ve also heard “Lazarus” and “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” all of which are fueling anticipation for this being one of the best albums of Bowie’s later career.
Oft lost in the great “best albums of the year” rush are EPs, those unimposing 18-minute-or-so releases that artists release between albums, to try stuff out or to unload extra songs. While you don’t get the whole enchilada of a full-album statement, EPs are like a great appetizer that leave you wanting more, and 2013 was full of delicious bloomin’ onions. Here are 10 that I liked, in no particular order.
William Emmanuel Bevan makes the kind of music Thom Yorke dreams about, dark, brooding electronic music that blends subgenres like dubstep (the good kind) while sounding like its own thing, future-seeking yet emotional and grimy. He hasn’t had a full-length album since 2007’s great Untrue, but he released several EPs this year, including the recent Rival Dealer 12” and, earlier this year, this release of two 10-plus-minute tracks, the first entrancing and inviting, the second morose and restless.
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City
Limited Edition LP $19.98
Every time the world turns against Vampire Weekend, they have a way of turning around and shattering expectations. From the get-go, the band was dogged with Strokes comparisons and scoffs of Ivy League grads pilfering African music while singing about rich people. But none of those things could stop people from enjoying their immensely enjoyable first album, their underrated second one and now their third pop opus, Modern Vampires of the City. It’s low-key like Contra, but Modern Vampires’ hooks are silkier and more ingratiating. “Step” waltzes with a gorgeous collegiate melody, featuring some of the finest singing to date by Ezra Koenig, who’s finally mastered that Paul Simon trill. He also extends his voice beyond its comfort zone, taking on Buddy Holly-style hiccupping and extending his range up and down (aided by digital skewing) while the band rocks a solid shuffle on the cleverly titled “Diane Young.” It’s one of their best singles yet. Koenig’s lyrics, too, retain their wittiness and specificity, though they are open enough to make your own implications — “though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me we got our own sense of time,” he sings memorably in “Hannah Hunt,” which ends with a beautiful, well-earned climax in which Koenig tears his lungs out belting. The band mostly stays supportive, only going full-tilt on a few songs, like the galloping “Worship You,” which allows Koenig to spit verse at lightning speed, or pulling out grand pop moments in “Unbelievers” and the uber-strange “Ya Hey,” which pairs its intricate melodies with hyper-warped vocal tricks. Modern Vampires doesn’t go for obvious, occasionally obscuring itself in too much oddity and not ripping loose often enough. But few bands at this level are still taking these many chances, and pulling it off more often than not. Vampire Weekend’s freewheeling Modern Vampires of the City firmly perches the band back in the top echelon of bands making music today.
Amoeba.com’s growing free downloads section had a ton of great stuff this year. Here are some highlights.
Sufjan Stevens – “Justice Delivers Its Death”
This delicate ballad comes from Sufjan Stevens’ latest Christmas opus, Silver & Gold, Songs for Christmas, though its delicate beauty would fit on any of Stevens’ early, more acoustic releases.
Pissed Jeans – “Bathroom Laughter”
Pennsylvania punks Pissed Jeans’ latest album, Honeys, is due Feb. 12 on Sub Pop. The first taste from the album is a ferocious blast, with singer Matt Korvette scream-talking lyrics quickly as the band bashes out two-and-a-half minutes of hardcore bliss.